New Kodak Sensor Promises Enhanced Low-Light Performance

New Kodak Sensor Promises Enhanced Low-Light Performance

By Ron Leach

Kodak recently announced what they call a "groundbreaking image sensor technology" that promises a 2x--4x increase in light sensitivity (from one to two stops), resulting in significantly improved images taken under low-light conditions. Experts at Kodak say that this technology is appropriate for both CCD and CMOS sensors and could find itself in digital still cameras, camera phones and other imaging instruments for scientific and industrial applications.

Most color image sensors in use today are based upon the "Bayer Pattern"--an array of red, green and blue pixels that was developed in 1976 by Kodak Scientist Dr. Bruce Bayer. Sensors of this design allocate half of the pixels to collecting green light, with the remaining pixels split evenly between sensitivity to blue and red light. After an image is captured, software then "reconstructs" a full color signal for each pixel.

Chris McNiffe, General manager of Kodak's Image Sensor Solutions Group, explains that the new technology employs "panchromatic" or "clear" pixels in addition to the red, green and blue elements forming the sensor array. These new panchromatic pixels collect a significantly higher percentage of the light striking the image sensor because they are sensitive to all wavelengths of visible light. When combined with new software algorithms optimized for this new sensor design, the result is better low-light performance and the availability of faster shutter speeds for stopping action when photographing moving subjects.

"This represents a new generation of image sensor technology," says McNiffe, "and addresses one of the great challenges facing our industry--how to capture crisp, clear digital images in a poorly lit environment."

After several years of development, Kodak is now working with other companies to implement the technology and expects the first sensors to be available for sampling in early 2008. We'll keep you posted.